Novella v. City of New Haven
RULING denying 27 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 7/28/2011. (Oliver, T.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
CITY OF NEW HAVEN
CIVIL ACTION NO.
JULY 28, 2011
RULING RE: DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 27)
Plaintiff, Jodianne Novella, brings this suit against the City of New Haven (“the
City”), claiming that her supervisors subjected her to retaliation at her job at the New
Haven Police Department. Specifically, Detective Novella claims she was subjected to
retaliatory harassment after she filed an internal complaint of sexual harassment, in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”).
The City filed for summary judgment, claiming that Detective Novella cannot make out a
prima facie case for retaliation.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND 1
The City first hired Detective Novella in 1992 as a police dispatcher. Def.’s Local
Rule 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 1 (hereafter “L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt.”); Local Rule 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 1
(hereafter “L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.”). Thereafter, Detective Novella attended the New Haven
Police Academy and was hired as a police officer in 2000. L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 2; L.R.
56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 2. In January 2008, Detective Novella filed a complaint of sexual
harassment by another officer, Thomas Benedetto. See L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 3; L.R.
The court sets forth here the material facts not in dispute and facts proposed by the parties that are
supported by evidence in the record.
56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 3. Detective Novella complained that Officer Benedetto made offensive
gestures with his tongue and told her to “give it up” on two occasions in December 2007
and once in January 2008. L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. Issues of Material Fact ¶ 6 (hereafter
“L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. Disputed Issues”). She also complained that, on another occasion,
a different officer commented that she was wearing a white jacket, and Officer
Benedetto responded, “Yeah, as pure as the driven slut.” See L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 3;
L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 3; Novella Deposition at 33 (“Novella Depo.”). After that incident,
Detective Novella contacted the supervisor on duty, Sergeant Johannes. Novella Depo.
34. An internal affairs investigation revealed that, while some witnesses heard “slut,”
others heard Officer Benedetto say “slush.” L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 4; L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.
¶ 4. Officer Benedetto was reprimanded. L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 5; L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶
Although Detective Novella had previously been assigned to a solo car, following
her complaint regarding Officer Benedetto’s behavior, Lieutenant Kelly, the shift
commander, took Novella’s car away several times and reassigned it to someone else,
causing Detective Novella to have to ride with other officers. L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.
Disputed Issues ¶¶ 22–24; Novella Depo. at 38. Also following her complaint regarding
Officer Benedetto’s behavior, trash was placed on Detective Novella’s personal car
while it was parked in the police department parking lot, and on the same day, Detective
Novella’s payroll check was ripped open in her work mailbox. L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.
Disputed Issues ¶¶ 32–33; Novella Depo. at 47.
In January or February of 2008, Detective Novella requested a transfer to the
Statewide Narcotics Task Force, which resulted in her receiving a pay increase to that
of a detective. L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶¶ 7–8; L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶¶ 7–8. During her time
on the Task Force, Detective Novella maintains that Lieutenant Kelly yelled at her on
two separate occasions, singling her out in front of others. See L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶¶
38–45. First, after a community event where Detective Novella had been wearing her
uniform, Lieutenant Kelly waved his arms at Detective Novella and continually asked
her why she had worn her uniform to the event, even after Detective Novella explained
that another Lieutenant had given her permission to wear the uniform. See Novella
Depo. 70–71. This occurred in front of Detective Novella’s co-workers. See id. at 72.
Second, on July 31, 2008, Detective Novella’s supervisor asked her to call for two patrol
cars to assist in a raid. L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. Disputed Issues ¶ 38. After Detective
Novella contacted the dispatcher, in accordance with what she believed to be proper
procedure, Lieutenant Kelly called Detective Novella out of a van and proceeded to yell
at her in front of several troopers for skirting the chain of command. See Novella Depo.
In January 2009, Detective Novella was promoted to detective and assigned to
the tactical narcotics unit. L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 10; L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 10. Since
being assigned to the Tactical Narcotics Unit, Detective Novella has been treated in a
degrading manner by Lieutenant John Velleca and Sergeant Robert Criscoulo. L.R.
56(a)(2) Stmt. Disputed Issues ¶ 49. Specifically, Lieutenant Velleca has embarrassed
and insulted her in front of co-workers on several occasions, and labeled her as “a
complainer.” See Novella Depo. 140–145; Pelletier Deposition at 19–20 (hereafter
“Pelletier Depo.”). On one occasion, department representatives attended a meeting in
Newport and several officers, including Detective Novella, were in Lieutenant Velleca’s
hotel room. Id. 145–46. Detective Novella went to use the restroom, and while she was
using the bathroom, Lieutenant Velleca opened the door and held it open while her
other co-workers laughed. See id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion for summary judgment “may properly be granted . . . only where there is
no genuine issue of material fact to be tried, and the facts as to which there is no such
issue warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law.” In re Dana Corp., 574
F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir. 2009). Thus, the role of a district court in considering such a
motion “is not to resolve disputed questions of fact but only to determine whether, as to
any material issue, a genuine factual dispute exists.” Id. In making this determination,
the trial court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the party
against whom summary judgment is sought. See Loeffler v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp.,
582 F.3d 268, 274 (2d Cir. 2009).
“[T]he moving party bears the burden of showing that he or she is entitled to
summary judgment.” United Transp. Union v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 588 F.3d
805, 809 (2d Cir. 2009). Once the moving party has satisfied that burden, in order to
defeat the motion, “the party opposing summary judgment . . . must set forth ‘specific
facts’ demonstrating that there is ‘a genuine issue for trial.’” Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d
255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). “A dispute about a ‘genuine
issue’ exists for summary judgment purposes where the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could decide in the non-movant’s favor.” Beyer v. County of Nassau,
524 F.3d 160, 163 (2d Cir.2008) (quoting Guilbert v. Gardner, 480 F.3d 140, 145 (2d
Cir. 2007)); see also Havey v. Homebound Mortg., Inc., 547 F.3d 158, 163 (2d Cir.
2008) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)) (stating that a
non-moving party must point to more than a mere “scintilla” of evidence in order to
defeat a motion for summary judgment).
To set forth a prima facie case for retaliation, a plaintiff must demonstrate “(1)
that she participated in an activity protected by Title VII, (2) that her participation was
known to her employer, (3) that her employer thereafter subjected her to a materially
adverse employment action, and (4) that there was a causal connection between the
protected activity and the adverse employment action.” Kaytor v. Electric Boat Corp.,
609 F.3d 537, 552 (2d Cir. 2010). At the summary judgment stage, a plaintiff is only
required to present “a minimal amount of evidence” to support her claim. See id.
Filing a formal complaint of sexual harassment is a protected activity under Title
VII. See Kotcher v. Rosa & Sullivan Appliance Ctr., Inc., 957 F.2d 59, 65 (2d Cir. 1992).
The City does not contest that Detective Novella’s complaint in 2008 to internal affairs
regarding sexual harassment was a protected activity under Title VII. See Mem. Supp.
Mot. Summ. J. at 4. Accordingly, Detective Novella has presented evidence sufficient
for a reasonable jury to conclude that she participated in an activity protected by Title
Whether Her Participation was Known to her Employer
Next, Detective Novella must show that her employer knew of her participation in
a protected activity. Kaytor, 609 F.3d at 552. To satisfy this knowledge requirement,
Detective Novella is only required to show “general corporate knowledge” of protected
activity. See Gordon v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 232 F.3d 111, 116 (2d Cir. 2000);
Reed v. A.W. Lawrence & Co., Inc., 95 F.3d 1170, 1178 (2d Cir. 1996) (holding that
knowledge is “easily proved” where an employee complained to an officer of the
company and maintained the complaint throughout a subsequent investigation). The
City argues that Detective Novella has not presented any evidence that the individuals
who she claims retaliated against her knew of her complaint. See Mot. Summ. J. at 5.
Even if this were the case, however, it is undisputed that Detective Novella made a
complaint of sexual harassment and internal affairs conducted an investigation. L.R.
56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶¶ 3–4; L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶¶ 3–4. Consequently, Detective Novella has
offered evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that her employer was
aware of her protected activity.
Materially Adverse Employment Action
Detective Novella may demonstrate a materially adverse employment action by
showing a “materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of [her] employment,”
including sufficiently severe “unchecked retaliatory co-worker harassment.” See
Richardson v. New York State Dep’t of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426, 446 (2d Cir. 1999),
abrogated on other grounds by Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548
U.S. 123 (2006). Conduct that is severe or pervasive enough to create both an
objectively and subjectively hostile work environment may alter the terms and conditions
of employment and constitute a materially adverse change. See Harris v. Forklift Sys.
Inc., 510 U.S. 367, 370 (1993); Richardson, 180 F.3d at 446 (finding an employee had
alleged facts sufficient to support a Title VII retaliation claim where she had a rubber
band shot at her, and found manure in her parking space, hair in her food, and
scratches on her car). A court must look at all the circumstances to determine whether
certain conduct is discriminatory; however, “‘simple teasing,’ offhand comments, and
isolated incidents” will generally not constitute discriminatory changes in a work
environment. See Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787–88 (1998). An
employer may be accountable for such retaliatory conduct if the employer knows about
the harassment but fails to act to stop it. See Richardson, 180 F.3d at 446.
Detective Novella asserts that soon after she filed her internal affairs complaint,
she began experiencing retaliatory conduct from her co-workers and supervisors. In
one instance, someone placed trash on Detective Novella’s personal vehicle while it
was parked in the police department parking lot and ripped open her paycheck on the
same day. See Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 6; Novella Depo. 46–48. Additionally,
Detective Novella asserts that following her complaint, her solo car was taken away far
more frequently, forcing her to ride with other officers. See Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J.
at 7–8. Finally, Detective Novella contends that, on two separate occasions in 2008,
she was reprimanded in front of her co-workers. First, on June 23, 2008, Detective
Novella contends that Lieutenant Kelly yelled at Detective Novella for wearing her
uniform to a community event, even after Detective Novella informed Lieutenant Kelly
that she had received permission to do so from another Lieutenant. See Novella Depo.
70–75. Second, on July 31, 2008, Detective Novella asserts that Lieutenant Kelly yelled
at her in front of other officers after she had requested assistance on a raid, despite her
following what she believed to be proper procedure. See id. at 9–10.
In addition, Detective Novella claims that following her transfer to the Tactical
Narcotics Unit, Lieutenant Velleca regularly spoke to Detective Novella in a sarcastic
and demeaning tone, and often characterized her as a complainer. See id. at 11–15.
Lieutenant Velleca also questioned Detective Novella’s qualifications in front of other
officers on several occasions, telling her she was “no narcotics cop” and pointing out to
others that Detective Novella had only made three arrests in her career. See id. at 13–
Finally, Detective Novella contends that, while attending a class with the rest of
her Unit in Newport, Rhode Island during November 2009, she attended a gathering in
Lieutenant Velleca’s hotel room with the rest of the Unit. Detective Novella claims that
while she was using the bathroom, Lieutenant Velleca opened the door and held it
open, while her co-workers laughed. Novella Depo. 145–47.
The facts set forth by Detective Novella raise a material issue of fact for a jury.
Given the facts alleged by Detective Novella, a reasonable jury could find that the way
Detective Novella’s co-workers and supervisors treated her went beyond simple teasing
or isolated incidents and constituted co-worker harassment that materially changed the
terms and conditions of Detective Novella’s employment following her internal affairs
Finally, Detective Novella must present evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable
jury to find a causal connection between her protected activity and the employment
action; in this case, the alleged harassment by her co-workers. See Kaytor, 609 F.3d at
552. Close temporal proximity between Detective Novella’s protected activity and the
adverse employment action may be sufficient to establish a causal connection. See id.
Proof regarding individuals’ lack of knowledge of the protected activity is admissible,
however, to show the lack of a causal connection between the protected activity and the
employment action. See Gordon, 232 F.3d at 117. Even if the agent denies direct
knowledge of the protected activity though, a jury may find retaliation if the
circumstances demonstrate that the agents had knowledge of the protected activities.
Detective Novella contends that the behavior she complains of began very soon
after she filed her internal affairs complaint in early 2008, and continued unabated
through 2009. See Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 4–16. Due to this temporal proximity,
Detective Novella argues, a reasonable trier of fact could infer a causal connection.
See id. at 27.
The City argues that, in spite of the temporal proximity between Novella’s
complaint and her co-workers’ conduct, Detective Novella cannot establish a causal
connection between her protected activity and her co-workers’ behavior because
Detective Novella switched units soon after her complaint, and therefore does not have
a basis for comparison between the two units. See Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 10–
In addition, the City argues that with the exception of Sergeant Johannes, whom
Detective Novella complained to directly, Detective Novella presents no evidence that
the co-workers she claims retaliated against her even knew of her complaint. See
Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 5. In response, Detective Novella asserts that since
Sergeant Criscuolo and Lieutenant Velleca often referred to her as “a complainer”—and
the only complaint she made was with internal affairs—a trier of fact could reasonably
conclude they knew of the complaint. See Mem. Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 21.
Additionally, Novella testified at her deposition that Lieutenant Velleca and Sergeant
Johannes worked together on patrol, and then Velleca brought Johannes to the Tactical
Narcotics Unit with him. See Novella Depo. at 176. Detective Novella also states that it
was common for rumors to travel, and several people questioned her regarding her
complaint. See id.
A reasonable jury could conclude, based on these facts, that information
regarding Detective Novella’s complaint was not kept confidential, and her co-workers in
both her old and her new units were aware of Detective Novella’s internal affairs
complaint. Given the plaintiff’s minimal burden of proof in establishing a prima facie
case and the court’s obligation to construe the facts in favor of the non-movant,
Detective Novella has raised a material issue of fact. A jury could reasonably conclude
that those co-workers who were allegedly harassing Detective Novella knew of her
internal affairs complaint and the fact that this conduct began shortly after she filed her
complaint is sufficient to establish a causal connection between the complaint and the
For the foregoing reasons, the court denies defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 27).
Dated at Bridgeport, Connecticut this 28th day of July, 2011.
/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?